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Total population
Several million (of which about 0.9 million official declared Silesian nationality in national census in Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia).
Regions with significant populations
Poland: 2 million,[1] of which 847,000[2] officially declared Silesian nationality
Czech Republic: no data, 21,556 declared Silesian nationality[3]
Germany: unknown (historical data: 3.6 million in 1950; 2.4 million Silesian Germans in West Germany in 1970).[4][5]
Silesian, Polish, German, Czech.
Roman Catholicism, Lutheran Protestantism, other, Non-religious
Related ethnic groups
Poles, Czechs, Sorbs, Slovaks, Other West Slavs, Germans, Austrians
Woman in Silesian dress from Cieszyn Silesia, 1914
"Ślůnsko nacyjo bůła, je i bydzie", which means "Silesian Nation was, is, and will be" - IIIrd Autonomy March, Katowice, 18 July 2009

Silesians (Silesian: Ślůnzoki; Silesian German: Schläsinger; Polish: Ślązacy; Czech: Slezané; German: Schlesier) are the inhabitants of Silesia, a region divided by the current boundaries of Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic. Silesians are considered to belong to a Polish ethnographic group, and they speak a dialect of Polish. They are of Slavic descent, but because Germany ruled Silesia for a long time, Silesians have been deeply influenced by German culture.[6]

There have been some debates on whether or not the Silesians (historically, Upper Silesians) constitute a distinct nation. In modern history, they have often been pressured to declare themselves to be German, Polish or Czech, and use the language of the nation currently governing them. Nevertheless, 847,000 people declared themselves to be of Silesian nationality in the 2011 Polish national census (including 376,000 who declared it to be their only nationality, 436,000 who declared to be their first nationality, 411,000 who declared to be their second one, and 431,000 who declared joint Silesian and Polish nationality[2] (173,153 in Poland in 2002[7]), maintaining its position as the largest minority group. About 126,000 people declared themselves as members of the German minority (58,000 declared it jointly with Polish nationality), making it the third largest minority group in the country (93% of Germans living in Poland are in the Polish part of Silesia). 12,231 people declared themselves to be of Silesian nationality in the Czech national census of 2011[8] (44,446 in Czechoslovakia in 1991),[9] and 6,361 people declared joint Silesian and Moravian nationality in the Slovak national census.[10]

During the German occupation of Poland, Nazi authorities conducted a census in East Upper Silesia in 1940. 157,057 people declared Silesian nationality (Slonzaken Volk), and the Silesian language was declared by 288,445 people. However, the Silesian nationality could only be declared in the Cieszyn part of the region. Approximately 400–500,000 respondents from the other areas of East Upper Silesia who declared "Upper Silesian nationality" (Oberschlesier) were assigned to the German nationality category.[11] After World War II in Poland, the 1945 census showed a sizable group of people in Upper Silesia who declared Silesian nationality. According to police reports, 22% of people in Zabrze considered themselves to be Silesians, and that number was around 50% in Strzelce County.[12]

An article promoting the creation of an organization - the League of Silesia - was first publicly published during the Spring of Nations. The author of the article was painter and poet Jan Gajda, who published his "Appeal to the people of Upper Silesia" (Odezwa do ludu górnośląskiego) in the Journal of Upper Silesia on 7 April 1849. Later, the term "Silesian nationality" was used in Prussian Upper Silesia and Austrian Silesia.[13] The emergence of the Silesian People's Party in 1908 initiated the struggle for the national identity of Silesians. At the international talks on the future of Silesia, Józef Kożdoń (leader of Silesian People's Party) stipulated the creation of an independent Silesian state. The idea attracted the International Commission, but it has faded due to the protest of the French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau and the representative of France. The Silesian People's Party cooperated with the Union of Upper Silesians. The Union of Upper Silesians supported a national identity for Upper Silesians, and advocated the creation of an independent, neutral Republic of Upper Silesia based the model of Switzerland and Belgium. In 1921, the union had about half a million members, which was half of the adult population. In 1918, the secret Committee of the Upper Silesians distributed unsigned underground leaflets, calling for the establishment of an independent Republic of Upper Silesia. Between 1925 and 1934, the Association of Upper Silesian Defense (Związek Obrony Górnoślązaków) demanded that the Silesian nationality be recognized as a national minority in Poland.[13]


Archaeological findings of the 20th century in Silesia confirm the existence of an early settlement inhabited by Celtic tribes.[14]

Until the 2nd century some parts of Silesia were populated by Celtic Boii, predecessors of the states of Bohemia and Bavaria and subsequently until the 5th century, by the Germanic Silingi, a tribe of the Vandals, which moved south and west to invade (V)Andalusia. Silesia remained depopulated until the second phase of the migration period.

The Slavs, predominantly White Croats entered the depopulated territory of Silesia in the first half of the 6th century. The Slavic territories were mostly abandoned, because the Celtic and Germanic tribes that lived there before had moved west.[15] Chronologically, the first group of Slavs were those that dwelt by the Dnieper River, the second was the Sukov-Dzidzice type Slavs, and the last were groups of Avaro-Slavic peoples from the Danube river areas.[16] In the early 9th century, the settlement stabilized. Local Slavs started to erect defence systems, such as Silesian Przesieka and the Silesia Walls to guard them from the peoples of the West. The north-eastern border with Slavic Polans was not reinforced, due to their common culture and language.[17]

The 9th-century Bavarian Geographer records the tribal names of the Opolanie, Dadosesani, Golenzizi, Lupiglaa and the Ślężanie. The 1086 Prague Document, which is believed to document the 10th-century settlements,[17] also mentions the Bobrzanie and Trzebowianie tribes. Later sources classified those tribes as Silesian tribes, which were also jointly classified as part of Polish tribes.[18][19][20][21] The reason for this classification was the "fundamentally common culture and language" of Silesian, Polan, Masovian, Vistulan and Pomeranian tribes that "were considerably more closely related to one another than were the Germanic tribes."[22]

According to Perspectives on Ethnicity, written by anthropologist V. I. Kozlov and edited by R. Holloman, the Silesian tribes, together with other Polish tribes, formed what is now Polish ethnicity and culture. This process is called ethnic consolidation, in which several ethnic communities of the same origin and cognate languages merge into one.[19]

Middle Ages[edit]

The territory the Silesians lived on became part of the Great Moravia in 875. Later, in 990, the first Polish state was created by Duke Mieszko I, and then expanded by king Boleslaw I at the beginning of the 11th century. He established the Bishopric of Wrocław in Lower Silesia in the year 1000.

In the Middle Ages, Slavic tribal confederacies, and then Slavic states, dominated. Silesia was part of Great Moravia, then Kingdom of Bohemia and finally the Piast monarchy of Poland. The tribal differences started to disappear after the consolidation of Poland in the 10th and 11th centuries. The main factors of this process were the establishment of a single monarchy that ruled over all Polish tribes, as well as creation of a separate ecclesiastical organization within the boundaries of the newly established Polish state.[23] The names of the smaller tribes disappeared from historical records, as well as the names of some prominent tribes. However, in some places, the names of the most important tribes transformed into names representing the whole region, such as Mazovians for Mazovia, and Silesians for Silesia. As a result of the fragmentation of Poland, some of those regions were again divided into smaller entities, such as the division of Silesia into Lower Silesia and Upper Silesia). However, the tribal era was already over, and these divisions reflected only political subdivisions of the Polish realm.[24] Within Poland, from 1177 onward, Silesia was divided into many smaller duchies. In 1178, parts of the Duchy of Kraków around Bytom, Oświęcim, Chrzanów and Siewierz were transferred to the Silesian Piasts, although their population was of Vistulan and not of Silesian descent.[25] Parts of those territories were bought by the Polish kings in the second half of the 15th century, but the Bytom area remained in the possession of the Silesian Piasts, even though it remained a part of the Diocese of Kraków.[25] Between 1327 and 1348, duchies of Silesia came under suzerainty of the Crown of Bohemia, and was then passed to the Habsburg Monarchy of Austria in 1526.

Beginning in the 13th century, Slavic Silesia began to be settled by Germans. This led to changes in the ethnic structure of the province. In the Middle Ages, various German dialects of the new settlers became widely used throughout Lower Silesia and some Upper Silesian cities. However, after the era of German colonization, the Polish language was still predominant in Upper Silesia and parts of Lower and Middle Silesia north of the Odra river. Germans usually dominated large cities, and Poles mostly lived in rural areas. This required the Prussian authorities to issue official documents in Polish, or in German and Polish. The Polish-speaking territories of Lower and Middle Silesia, commonly called the Polish side until the end of the 19th century, were mostly Germanized in the 18th and 19th centuries, except for some areas along the northeastern frontier.[26][27]

Modern history[edit]

In 1742, most of Silesia was seized in the War of the Austrian Succession by King Frederick the Great of Prussia, who named himself a 'Piast prince' (he was actually a remote descendant) in his first declaration. The remainder of Silesia, known as Cieszyn Silesia, remained in the Austrian Empire. The Prussian part of Silesia constituted the Province of Silesia until 1918. Later, the province was split into the Prussian provinces of Upper and Lower Silesia. Owing to the development of education, a rebirth of Polish culture took place in the second half of the 1800s in Silesia, which was connected with the emergence of a Polish national movement of a clearly Catholic character. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the fact that Silesians were part of the Polish nation was not questioned.[6] The language and culture of the self-declared Polish Silesians were put under the pressure of the Prussian Kulturkampf policies, which attempted to Germanize them in culture and language. The process of Germanisation was never completely successful. The cultural distance of Upper Silesians from the German population resulted in the development of Polish national awareness at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, culminating in the pro-Polish movements at the end of World War I.[28]

After the Silesian Uprisings, the eastern minor, but richer, part of Upper Silesia became part of the newly restored Poland; most of the land that had been ruled by the Habsburgs following the 1742 war went to Czechoslovakia, while Lower Silesia and most of Upper Silesia remained in Germany. The ethnic situation of the region became more complex as the division of Upper Silesia into Polish and German parts led to ethnic polarization. The people that lived in the western part of Upper Silesia were subject to a strong German cultural influence, where those living in the eastern part of Silesia started to identify with the Polish culture and statehood.[6]

World War II and its aftermath amplified this polarization. Three groups took shape within the Silesian population. The Polish group was the strongest; the German group, which was primarily in central Silesia, was clearly less numerous. A third group supported separatism and an independent Silesian nation-state. The separatists were of marginal importance, finding little support among native Silesians.[29]

The reasons for these transitions were boundary shifts and population changes that came after World War II. As a result, the vast majority of the former German Silesia was incorporated into Poland, with smaller regions remaining under the control of the German Democratic Republic (which later became a part of unified Germany), and Czechoslovakia obtained most of Cieszyn Silesia. Millions of Silesians, mostly of German ethnicity, were subsequently expelled, but after being sifted out from the ethnic Germans by a process of "national verification", the Silesians classified as "autochthons" by the Polish communist authorities were allowed to remain, and they were intensely polonized.[30]

Between 1955 and 1959, under the supervision of the Red Cross, some of the remaining Silesians were able to emigrate to West and East Germany to reunite with their families in Germany.[31] But some had to wait for years. Until 1989, nearly 600,000 Silesians emigrated to Germany.

Between 1945 and 1949, millions of ethnic Poles from the former (pre-1939) eastern Poland (especially Lviv, Volhynia, Podolia, Vilnius, etc.) and central Poland moved into Silesia, particularly Lower Silesia. Since the end of Communist rule in Poland, there have been calls for greater political representation for the Silesian ethnic minority. In 1997, a Katowice court of law registered the Union of People of Silesian Nationality (ZLNS) as the political representative organization of the Silesian ethnic minority, but after two months, the registration was revoked by a regional court.


Main article: Silesian language

The Slavic Silesian language (often called Upper Silesian) is spoken by the Silesian ethnic group or nationality inside Polish Upper Silesia. According to the last census in Poland (2011), some 509,000[32] people declared Silesian to be their native language; however, as many as 817,000 people declared themselves to be of Silesian nationality, not necessarily speaking Silesian, even though the Silesian nationality has not been recognized by Polish governments since its creation in 1945.

There is some contention over whether Silesian is a dialect or a language in its own right. Most Polish linguists consider Silesian to be a prominent regional dialect of Polish. However, many Silesians regard it to be a separate language belonging to the West Slavic branch of Slavic languages, together with Polish and other Lechitic languages, such as Upper and Lower Sorbian, Czech and Slovak. In July 2007, the Silesian language was officially recognized by the Library of Congress and SIL International. The language was attributed an ISO code: SZL. The first official dictation contest of the Silesian language took place in August 2007.

Although the German language is still spoken in Silesia, as it has a sizable minority of speakers in the Opole Voivodship in Poland, the vast majority of native speakers were expelled during or after 1945. Therefore, the number of German speakers in the region was radically and significantly decreased after World War II, even though the Germans had settled there for centuries. The Silesian German dialect is a distinct variety of East Central German, with some West Slavic influence likely caused by centuries of contact between Germans and Slavs in the region; the dialect is related to contemporary Saxon in some ways. The Silesian German dialect is often misleading referred to as Lower Silesian in the German language. The usage of this dialect appears to be decreasing, as most Silesian Germans prefer either Standard German or even Polish.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Institute for European Studies, Ethnological institute of UW" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-08-16. 
  2. ^ a b Przynależność narodowo-etniczna ludności – wyniki spisu ludności i mieszkań 2011. GUS. Materiał na konferencję prasową w dniu 29. 01. 2013. p. 3. Retrieved 2013-03-06.
  3. ^ Tab. 614a Obyvatelstvo podle věku, národnosti a pohlaví - Český statistický úřad
  4. ^ National census in West Germany in 1970.
  5. ^ "Volkszählung vom 27. Mai 1970" Germany (West). Statistisches Bundesamt. W. Kohlhammer, 1972, OCLC Number: 760396
  6. ^ a b c P. Eberhardt, Ethnic Groups and Population Changes in Twentieth-century Central-Eastern Europe: History, Data, and Analysis, M.E. Sharpe, 2003, p. 166, ISBN 0765618338, 9780765618337 Google books
  7. ^ "Ludność według deklarowanej narodowości oraz województw w 2002 r." - Central Statistical Office (Poland)
  8. ^ "Obyvatelstvo podle národnosti podle krajů" (PDF). Czech Statistical Office. 
  9. ^ "Národnost ve sčítání lidu v českých zemích" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-08-16. 
  10. ^
  11. ^ "Górny Śląsk: szczególny przypadek kulturowy" (en: "Upper Silesia: special case of cultural") - Mirosława Błaszczak-Wacławik, Wojciech Błasiak, Tomasz Nawrocki, University of Warsaw 1990, p. 63
  12. ^ "Polityka antyniemiecka na Górnym Śląsku w latach 1945-1950" - Bernard Linek, Opole 2000, ISBN 978-83-7126-142-8
  13. ^ a b "Historia narodu śląskiego: prawdziwe dzieje ziem śląskich od średniowiecza do progu trzeciego tysiąclecia" (en: "History of Silesian Nation")- Dariusz Jerczyński, Wyd. II (uzupełnione i poprawione) Zabrze: Narodowa Oficyna Śląska, 2006. ISBN 978-83-60540-55-8
  14. ^ "Opole county". 2011-05-25. Retrieved 2012-08-16. 
  15. ^ R. Żerelik(in:) M. Czpliński (red.) Historia Śląska, Wrocław 2007, p. 34–37, ISBN 978-83-229-2872-1
  16. ^ R. Żerelik(in:) M. Czpliński (red.) Historia Śląska, Wrocław 2007, p. 37–38, ISBN 978-83-229-2872-1
  17. ^ a b R. Żerelik(in:) M. Czpliński (red.) Historia Śląska, Wrocław 2007, p. 40, ISBN 978-83-229-2872-1
  18. ^ Raymond Breton, National Survival in Dependent Societies: Social Change in Canada and Poland, McGill-Queen's Press – MQUP, 1990, p. 106, ISBN 0-88629-127-5 Google Books; Charles William Previte-Orton, The Shorter Cambridge Medieval History, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1962, V. II, p. 744, ISBN 0-521-09976-5 Google Books
  19. ^ a b V.I. Kozlov [in:] Regina E. Holloman, Serghei A. Arutiunov (ed.) Perspectives on Ethnicity, Walter de Gruyter 1978, p. 391, ISBN 311080770X, 9783110807707 Google Books
  20. ^ Raymond Breton, W. Kwaśniewicz, National Survival in Dependent Societies: Social Change in Canada and Poland, McGill-Queen's Press - MQUP, 1990, p. 106,ISBN 0-88629-127-5 Google Books
  21. ^ S. Arnold, M. Żychowski, Outline history of Poland. From the beginning of the state to the present time, Warsaw 1962, p. 7-11 Google Books
  22. ^ John Blacking, Anna Czekanowska, Polish Folk Music: Slavonic Heritage – Polish Tradition – Contemporary Trends, Cambridge University Press, 2006, p. 3, ISBN 0-521-02797-7 Google Books same conclusions in Mark Salter, Jonathan Bousfield, Poland, Rough Guides, 2002, p. 675, ISBN 1-85828-849-5 Google Books
  23. ^ S. Rosik [in:] W. Wrzesiński (red.) Historia Dolnego Śląska, Wrocław 2006, p. 49, ISBN 978-83-229-2763-2
  24. ^ S. Rosik [in:] W. Wrzesiński (red.) Historia Dolnego Śląska, Wrocław 2006, p. 53-54, ISBN 978-83-229-2763-2
  25. ^ a b R. Żerelik(in:) M. Czpliński (red.) Historia Śląska, Wrocław 2007, p. 21-22, ISBN 978-83-229-2872-1
  26. ^ Badstübner 2005, p. 4.
  27. ^ M. Czapliński [in:] M. Czapliński (red.) Historia Śląska, Wrocław 2007, s. 290, ISBN 978-83-229-2872-1
  28. ^ David M. Smith, Enid Wistrich, Regional Identity and Diversity in Europe: Experience in Wales, Silesia and Flanders, The Federal Trust for Education & Research, 2008, p. 65, ISBN 1903403871, 9781903403877 Google books
  29. ^ P. Eberhardt, Ethnic Groups and Population Changes in Twentieth-century Central-Eastern Europe: History, Data, and Analysis, M.E. Sharpe, 2003, p. 166, ISBN 0765618338, 9780765618337 Google books
  30. ^ Kamusella, Tomasz (November 2005). "Doing It Our Way". Transitions Online. Retrieved 2006-07-25. 
  31. ^ "Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung" (in German). 2005-03-15. Retrieved 2012-08-16. 
  32. ^ Central Statistical Office of Poland (2012-07-26). "Język używany w domu - Narodowy Spis Powszechny Ludności i Mieszkań 2011" (PDF). 

External links[edit]